THE DEAN OF German military historians, Gordon Craig, whose important Politics of the Prussian Army, 1940-1945 (1955) traced how the military came to influence German political decision making, now gives us his general German history in the Oxford History of Modern Europe series. This volume carries forward that study of the integral relationship between military and political affairs and the fabric of German society that has been the hallmark and essential contribution of Craig's work.
The division of the past into periods is the scaffolding upon which the historian works, one which implies a framework of assumptions regarding the story he would explain. Craig writes with the presuppositions of classical liberal history. He unabashedly opens his history at the Battle of Koniggratz and Bismarck's expulsion of Austria from north German affairs in 1866. He concludes with the death of Hitler and the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945. Throughout he deals intensively with political and military events and with the constitutional arrangements of statecraft, rather than with social and economic relationships, because he holds that states make economic policy, wars, and the social policies that affect the masses. Yet with Craig's deft and intelligent handling there is nothing "simple" about politics and nothing superficial about government. Even the least autocratic governments shape their people by regulation, selective taxation, military training, and certainly German governments and states have always done so.
However, Craig does justice to such topics of contemporary interest as the role of women and the political manipulation of symbols. He uses Theodor Fontane's novel Effi Briest to illustrate bourgeois marriage and mores in the 19th-century German world which depreciated women and severely punished their sexual infractions while tolerating the husband's infidelities. (Still, the researches of Robert Neuman into the class and social patterns of birth control, prostitution, and venereal disease in Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany find no mention.)
The chapters on the German educational system sensitively interpret the social consequences of this institutional structure. Craig's treatment of culture offers discerning appraisals of the politics of Germany's men of letters and ranges from those acerbic critics from the left such as Kurt Tucholsky and Heinrich Mann to camp followers of Nazism like Martin Heidegger and Gottfried Benn. Likewise, Craig's use of the literary treatments of historical events -- the patriotism of 1914 evoked by writer Ernst Glaser, the trench warfare by novelist Ernst Juenger -- add welcome richness and depth to what might otherwise be conventional military history.
Nevertheless, this reviewer wished to see more of the exciting recent historical research on how people actually lived, on youth movements, family patterns, recreation, demographic trends -- in short, the broad social and economic life that one might expect in a new synthesis of German history.
Instead the reader will find only impressionistic vignettes when Craig discusses the personalities of such movers of German history as Bismarck, Ludendorff, and Hitler. (The researches of historians such as Otto Pflanze on Bismarck's character and Robert Waite on Hitler's personality, for example, are not referred to in Craig's presentation.) In place of systematic social science and psychological analysis, Craig gives us his intuitive evaluations of the flashy and superficial personality of Kaiser Wilhelm II and of such typical bureaucrats as Heinrich Himmler who suffered agonizing and intestinal pains, Craig tells us, as an expression "of the enormity of his actions." To be sure, the common sense insights of Gordon Craig are tempered, judicious, and worth more than much of current social science and psychohistory.
But Craig's forte is analyzing the complex interplay of political decision making with military and naval strategy. He shows that the price of Hitler's recklessness with his naval forces in the Norwegian campaign inhibited German effectiveness at the Battle of Dunkirk a few weeks later. The Russian victory at Stalingrad is described by evoking Hannibal's victory over the Romans at Cannae.
Craig does not hesitate to offer his political judgments, always sound, balanced, and firmly liberal. His analysis of the role of the Soldier's and Worker's Councils after World War I follows the latest scholarship which shows them to have been essentially conservative rather than revolutionary institutions. He refutes A.J.P. Taylor's flip dismissal of Mein Kampf as a statement of Hitler's policy. He condemns the weakness of the reaction by the German churches and military to Hitler. He does not spare the western powers for undercutting the German officer's plot against Hitler by capitulating to his demands in the Munich crisis of 1938. Craig perceptively observes that the allies were guilty about their sell-out of Czechoslovakia and therefore ended by blaming the Czechs -- "the person who has an opportunity to prevent a crime and deliberately fails to do so ends up being resentful of its victim."
The bibliography and notes of Germany:1866-1945 are by and large up to date, supplying a useful guide to the current literature. The appendix with English translations of German quotations and epigrams is useful. Altogether this is the best contemporary statement of modern German history in the classical mode.